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Scholarships help ‘map’ geography major’s path

April 1, 2013
Heather Jurs

Heather Jurs

As the recipient of the Richard E. Dahlberg and Elizabeth J. Schwantes scholarships, Heather Jurs knows full well the impact a scholarship can have on a student’s experience.

“These scholarships have made a huge difference in my education,” says Jurs, a senior geography major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“They have allowed me to pay back some of my student loans before I even graduate and have also allowed me to complete student teaching without having a part-time job, so I can fully concentrate on my student teaching experience.”

Students interested in applying for scholarships should contact the NIU Scholarship Office and also talk to their academic advisers. Jurs noted that the application process is fairly straightforward; in most cases, students complete an application and write a personal statement about their educational and career plans.

A transfer student from Highland Community College in Freeport, Ill., Jurs said the decisions to major in geography and to transfer to NIU were clear choices.

“I had always loved geography, but I selected it as my major because I had two great teachers in my high school and community college that opened my eyes to the world around me. I chose NIU because of its great geography and teaching programs,” she says. “The transition from Highland to NIU was really smooth. All of my classes transferred easily, I was able to begin my major and teaching classes as soon as I transferred, and I was able to complete my degree in the same number of years it would have been if I had started as a freshman at NIU.”

Jurs liked living in the Stevenson Towers residence hall, on a transfer student floor where all the residents had entered NIU at the same time.

“It was a great supportive community,” she says. “I would definitely recommend NIU to incoming transfer students because there is a wealth of resources available specifically for transfer students.”

Logo of the Kane County Forest Preserve DistrictJurs is now seeking a social studies teaching position in Illinois and plans to teach geography at the middle or high school level, utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology as much as possible. GIS is a system that manages, manipulates and analyzes geographical data, combining cartography, statistical analysis and database technology. She is already getting hands-on experience in using the technology.

Last summer, Jurs completed a paid GIS internship in the Planning Department of the Kane County Forest Preserve District. Her work there included updating and adding detail to the map of the more than 70 forest preserves in Kane County using aerial photos and parcel maps, allowing for a more accurate calculation of the acreage owned by the Forest Preserve District.

She also installed ArcGIS Explorer, a free, user-friendly GIS system, on district computers and trained planning personnel to use the interactive forest preserve maps that they had created.

David Goldblum

David Goldblum

David Goldblum, the associate professor in the Department of Geography who told Jurs about the internship, notes how important these experiences are for students.

“The education Heather received in the geography department prepared her to take advantage of the opportunity we give our students to earn NIU credit for off-campus internships,” Goldblum says. “This internship provided valuable real-world experience that will undoubtedly help her transition to a career as a professional geographer.”

Jurs, a member of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the International Geographic Honor Society, had some advice for students as they consider choosing a major.

“Pick your major based on what you love doing and don’t worry about what others think. I can’t tell you how many times I had to answer the question, ‘What are you going to do with a geography major?’ ”

by Pam Roesner